Earth May Lose Up To Half Its Plant Species

SCIENCE
23 MAY 2008 VOL 320

The Threat to the World’s Plants

A day after polar bears made headlines last week, the world’s leading
botanical gardens issued a call to remember threatened plants, too.
Their new report, Plants and Climate Change: Which Future? makes the
case for protecting the botanical foundations of terrestrial life.
“If you read any report about the impact of climate change, it’s
almost always about polar bears or tigers,” said Suzanne Sharrock,
director of Global Programmes for Botanic Gardens Conservation
International (BGCI) in London and a co-author of the report.

But BGCI, a network of 2000 organizations involved in plant
conservation, says climate change could kill off half of Earth’s
plant species. Plants that grow on islands or on mountainsides are at
greatest risk because they have “nowhere to go” as the climate shifts
around them.

BGCI also announced its own global effort to catalog and preserve
threatened plants. It will update a 10-year-old survey of the world’s
trees, identifying species that need additional protection in their native
habitat and collecting others for preservation in botanic gardens and arboreta.
BGCI plans to reintroduce some threatened plants into their former
habitats.

Thomas Lovejoy, president of the H. John Heinz Center for Science,
Economics and the Environment in Washington, D.C., welcomed the new
initiative. “At the outset, plants were scarcely mentioned in the
Endangered Species Act. Now, it’s an integral part,” he notes.

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